Hot Button: Is Hanson the best Atlanta rookie pitcher ever?

Your attention, please: No Braves pitcher has been named the National League’s rookie of the year. Only two were awarded the (since-discontinued) rookie pitcher of the year award given by The Sporting News: Steve Bedrosian in 1982 and Craig McMurtry in 1983.

At this moment, Tommy Hanson must be considered no worse than the league’s second-best rookie, behind only fellow pitcher J.A. Happ of Philadelphia, who’s 7-0 with an ERA of 2.68. (Colby Rasmus of St. Louis, considered the ealry leader, is hitting .265 with 34 RBIs.) Hanson is 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA. He yielded six earned runs in his first big-league start, 12 in the seven starts since. On Monday he struck out 11 Giants in seven innings. He is, in a word, good.

But even good rookies, as we know, are rookies. Hanson hasn’t hit his rough patch yet, and we’ll see how he fares when he sees an opponent a second time. (His first eight starts have come against eight different clubs.) So there’s your boilerplate disclaimer. And now we can commence with the flattering comparisons and contrasts.

Zane Smith was 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA as a rookie in 1985. Tom Glavine in 1987: 2-4, 5.54. John Smoltz in 1988: 2-7 and 5.48. Pete Smith in 1988: 7-15, 3.69. Steve Avery in 1990: 3-11, 5.64. Kevin Millwood in 1997: 5-3, 4.03. Horacio Ramirez in 2003 12-4, 4.00. Chuck James in 2006: 11-4, 3.78.

Not one of those received even a third-place vote for rookie of the year. Dating back to 1979, only 10 first-year Braves pitchers have drawn an ROY vote, and only two commanded a first-place ballot — Kerry Ligtenber got one in 1998, and McMurtry got six in 1983. The full list of ROY finishers:

  • Jair Jurrjens, third in 2008: 13-10, 3.68 ERA.
  • Damian Moss, fifth in 2000: 12-6, 3.42.
  • Kevin McGlinchy, sixth in 1999: 7-3, 2.82, no saves.
  • Kerry Ligtenberg, fourth in 1998: 3-2, 2.72, 30 saves.
  • Greg McMichael, second in 1993: 2-3, 2.06, 19 saves.
  • Mark Wohlers, tied for seventh in 1992: 1-2, 2.55, four saves.
  • Mike Stanton, eighth in 1991: 5-5, 2.88, seven saves.
  • Derek Lilliquist, fourth in 1989: 8-10, 3.97.
  • Craig McMurtry, second in 1983: 15-9, 3.08.
  • Steve Bedrosian, seventh in 1982: 8-6, 2.42, 11 saves.

Special mention must go to Kyle Davies, who didn’t allow a run in his first 14 big-league innings — he famously won his first start in Fenway Park — and finished the 2005 season 7-6 with a 4.93 ERA. But Davies started only one game after Aug. 4 and worked as many as seven innings once in 14 starts. (Davies was traded to Kansas City for Octavio Dotel in 2007 and is now in the minors.)

Will Tommy Hanson win NL rookie of the year?

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Also to Larry McWilliams, who in 1978 began his major-league career 7-0 and finished the season 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA. (Another Brave was named rookie of the year that season, a guy named Horner.) And also to Ron Reed, who was 11-10 with a 3.35 ERA in 1968 and who even made the All-Star team that year.

Still, the benchmark for Atlanta Braves rookie pitchers is McMurtry, who became the most reliable starter on a team that led the NL West most of 1983 before being overhauled by the Dodgers in September. He finished seventh in the Cy Young voting, and most seasons he’d have been a runaway rookie of the year. But there was another hot rookie then, one who played in New York. Guy named Strawberry.

So that’s who Hanson is chasing for Atlanta honors. Not Glavine, not Smoltz, not even Avery, but a Texan who wore glasses and whose first name, seldom used, was Joe. And who, on June 4, 1986, with two out in the fifth inning at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, yielded the first career home run to Barry Lamar Bonds.

(Personal note: I was there. I wrote a sidebar about Bonds that night. And I closed with his answer to a question about having to face the famous Dwight Gooden in the Pirates’ next series. Quoth Bonds: “Hey, Dwight Gooden has to face me.”)

(Personal plug: I’ll be chatting live from the ballpark today during the Braves-Giants game. We’ll get started around 12:30 p.m. and keep going until the cows come home, as Joe Craig McMurtry might say. Stop by and say howdy, won’t you?)

39 comments Add your comment

Jim H.

July 23rd, 2009
10:35 am

Chuck James…..man, I had already forgotten about him (which is a good thing). Lets see how Hanson finishes the season before we proclaim him rookie of the year. I believe he is going to be fine, though.

Bama Aaron

July 23rd, 2009
10:36 am

I believe if Hanson keeps pitching the way he has the award will probably be his. And he’ll get the recognition from the voters that previous Braves didn’t because he came into this season as the top prospect and is being watched as others (like Horatio) weren’t.

Question..how many games/innings does a pitcher have to appear in/throw to lose his rookie status? I was under the assumption that Happ from the Phillies would be Hanson’s biggest competitor for the title this year and then I saw he appeared in 8 games last season.

arif11

July 23rd, 2009
10:46 am

I think Happ is a rookie this year…and he’s been pretty good.

matt_T

July 23rd, 2009
10:50 am

“His first eight starts have come against eight different clubs”

Which included wins against the Yankees and Red Sox.

The best thing with Tommy so far is when he has gotten in trouble he’s gotten himself out, 2 on 2 outs against SF the other night and Bobby left him in. That shows the level of trust he has with the rookie

arif11

July 23rd, 2009
10:51 am

Here’s what ESPN says about qualifying: In order to qualify for pitching titles in averaged categories (ERA, WPct, #P/IP, RS, ORuns, Slg, OBP, Avg, CS%, G/F), a player must average at least one inning pitched for every game his team has played. Sorting by qualified year-to-date excludes all players not currently on pace to reach that minimum

You can also search stats by qualified rookies. Here’s the link, hopefully it works:
http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/pitching/_/position/rookie/league/nl/order/false

Jeremiah

July 23rd, 2009
10:56 am

I think Hanson will end up being the best Atlanta Rookie pitcher ever, and I hope his overall career continues with this type of success…He has the stuff to be Roy Halliday like, IMHO…

DawginLex

July 23rd, 2009
10:58 am

What about Buzz Capra? I miss the days of driving to AFCS and leaving 3 tickets on someone’s windshield before a doubleheader and leaving after game 1 and finding 6 more tickets there.

Bama Aaron

July 23rd, 2009
10:59 am

So Arif, if I’m reading that correctly Happ is considered a rookie this year and Hanson hasn’t yet made enough starts to be qualified?

If that’s the case I think Happ would really have to fall apart down the stretch to not get ROY. But I still hope Hanson can pull it off.

Smart Jay

July 23rd, 2009
11:00 am

Mark – Hanson is obviously good. Just how good? I think we really need to wait.

On another note – what is the scuttlebutt on Kelly Johnson? What roster move will the Braves make?

A. Teesman

July 23rd, 2009
11:03 am

Maybe he should change his name to Tommy McHanson, might improve his luck.

McWilliams. McMurtry. Oh, nevermind.

arif11

July 23rd, 2009
11:04 am

Bama,

I’m afraid so. It’s so bogus though. I mean, maybe Mark can help us out here, but does that mean for a pitcher to qualify he needs to pitch 162 innings? That seems awfully tough. Maybe that just makes a pitcher qualified for a pitching title (like best E.R.A), but not qualified to be a candidate for ROY.

In any event, according to the all-mighty ESPN, Happ (and not Hanson) is qualified as a 2009 rookie. But, who knows, maybe there is some weird rule out there we don’t know about.

bali smith

July 23rd, 2009
11:14 am

a stroll down memory lane. This kid seems to be the real deal……hope he pitches for the braves for a reall long time or at least longer than the Hanson Brothers were popular for the teeny boppers of a bygone era

Brian

July 23rd, 2009
11:19 am

Arif, what you posted is what qualifies players to be on season leaderboards for rate stats like ERA. That has nothing to do with rookie status. For a player NOT to be considered a rookie, you have to either:
Had 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors
Accumulated 45 days on an MLB roster, not including September, when rosters expand

Happ had about 35 innings coming into this season, and got most of them in September last year, so he didn’t have 45 days accumulated. So Happ is a rookie.

Brian

July 23rd, 2009
11:21 am

And so is Hanson a rookie, just in case I wasn’t clear. Any players, whether they have one at-bat or a third of an inning pitched, is a rookie if they haven’t reached the 130 AB/50 IP/45 days plateau.

Brian

July 23rd, 2009
11:24 am

Smart Jay, I would bet that the Braves will release Greg Norton when they call up Kelly. Norton doesn’t do anything but pinch hit, so he has no value in the field. Conrad should stay until Infante comes back.

TennesseePaul

July 23rd, 2009
11:25 am

I like Hanson, but isn’t the Phillies J.A. Happ a rookie? (Yes, unless the rules have changed.) Happ is 7-0 with a 2.68 ERA.

Bama Aaron

July 23rd, 2009
11:31 am

Thanks for the clarification Brian. And I partially agree on the upcoming moves. I think they’ll drop Norton after todays game and take Kelly on the road trip. However once Infante is brought back I find something to do with Kelly. I think Conrad has played well enough both hitting and in the field to deserve to stick around.

MatthewH

July 23rd, 2009
11:46 am

MB, Thank goodness you are back to your usual productivity today. Constantly hitting the refresh button yesterday and continuing to see that blog about a certain ex-Falcon was not good for my productivity at work (or at least that’s what my boss said)

arif11

July 23rd, 2009
11:48 am

Thanks for clearing that up. I did think it seemed a bit strange. Also, KJ was called up, but unfortunately Conrad was sent down. I’m disappointed in the move. I think Conrad has been great for us.

http://markbowman.mlblogs.com/archives/2009/07/johnson_activated_and_conrad_o.html

Bama Aaron

July 23rd, 2009
11:58 am

I had not seen that when I made my previous posting. A sign I guess that the Braves can still make some dumb moves. I don’t understand the logic of sending down someone who has played well and keeping dead weight light Norton on the bench.

Alex

July 23rd, 2009
12:04 pm

We could see a great battle down the stretch between Happ and Hanson for not only ROY but for the division title. Could get exciting. I’ll take Hanson though!

Paul

July 23rd, 2009
12:09 pm

Have to agree with Tennessee Paul here. Happ has more wins, been in league longer, lower ERA and plays for the media darling Phillies. Hanson has no chance unless JAHapp falls off.

David Granger

July 23rd, 2009
12:10 pm

He could well be. Personally, I think David Nied was the best rookie pitcher we’ve ever had. 3-0 with a 1.20 (or so) ERA…seems like his K/W ratio was around 4 to 1. I sure wish we had protected him in the expansion draft. I think going to Colorado killed his career, and I’d sure love to have seen him stay in a Braves uniform.

Good Grief

July 23rd, 2009
12:13 pm

Oh that’s just great…KJ is back. Hopefully its just for showcase so we can trade him off to somebody else.

As for this blog, I, right now, would have to throw my vote into the Tommy Hanson cap. However its still kinda close, to me, between him and what Jair did last year on a worst team. Jair’s record doesn’t show just how good he was (last year and this year) and plus Jair was here from game one of last season and I can’t recall him ever missing a start. If its possible for Tommy to continue at this pace I think he does win the R.O.Y over Happ just based off popularity – I think Tommy is getting more push than Happ. Just heard him on ESPN’s First Take this morning, and he was on Baseball Tonight on Monday

Brian

July 23rd, 2009
12:14 pm

As far as the send down of Conrad, I suppose it’s just a move to make because you can. Conrad has options, so he can come up and down as we please. We’d have to just drop Norton. He’s a veteran and a pro, though, and maybe they’ll give him a little more time to see if he can find it, at least until Infante comes back, then time’s probably up. It is very likely that Conrad has over-performed…he’s a .240-something minor league hitter and is 29.

Ronnie

July 23rd, 2009
12:18 pm

That’s the best picture of McMurtry you could find? It’s like one of those pictures of big foot or something.

Angus

July 23rd, 2009
12:21 pm

Good grief – if and when Hanson starts cutting down the walks, he may be the best pitcher on our staff. And, he could then be considered the best Braves rookie pitcher ever.

Re: the KJ/Conrad move –

The thinking has to be, get KJ some PT and see how he responds. Meanwhile, Conrad can get some PT at AAA. Sitting both KJ and Conrad on the bench right now doesn’t really help. They both play 2nd – there’s not PT for both of them in Atlanta. And if KJ stinks it up again, the move can be reversed. The big problem with KJ is that we have ~$2.5m, invested in him. We have to see if he can still produce (or convince other GM’s he can) or lose a lot of $.

I wouldn’t make too big of a deal out of Norton’s roster spot.

Angus

July 23rd, 2009
12:23 pm

Good Grief – I was saying “good grief”, not talking specifically to you. The blog on my PC is having some serious refresh problems.

Josh Rosen

July 23rd, 2009
12:45 pm

Good call on David Nied. I had forgotten about him.

Good Grief

July 23rd, 2009
12:59 pm

Yup I agree with you Angus on Hanson – even if you weren’t speaking to me directly. Thinking about heading into the next few seasons with both Jair and Hanson at the top of our rotation is starting to remind me of the good ol’ days of having Maddux and Smoltz.

Name One

July 23rd, 2009
1:19 pm

J.A. Happ from Philly nis 7-0. He’s right there with Hanson for ROY.

Hillbilly Deluxe

July 23rd, 2009
1:39 pm

You’re question is one that can only be answered in time. It’s too early to know.

Hillbilly Deluxe

July 23rd, 2009
1:39 pm

Your question

Herschel Talker

July 23rd, 2009
1:41 pm

I vote for John Montefusco

[...] might take a look at another El Marko post from this morning, this one posing the musical question: Is Tommy Hanson the best Braves’ rookie pitcher ever? As ever, I thank you for your [...]

Mark Bradley

July 23rd, 2009
7:17 pm

I apologize for neglecting this post during the day, but the live chat takes a toll on one’s time. And I probably would, after further review, put Hanson a notch behind J.A. Happ right now. But only a notch. One or the other should be ROY.

Mark Bradley

July 23rd, 2009
7:20 pm

And a pitcher does not have to qualify for any of the statistical titles to win rookie of the year. (Neither does a hitter.) It happens pretty often that the ROY is a midseason call-up who doesn’t qualify for those title.

jarvis

July 23rd, 2009
10:38 pm

Through the majority of the 80’s we had to bring up so much of our talent before they were ready for the bigs.
Then we had 3 of our 5 in the rotation set for the better part of a decade early on in the 90’s. There hasn’t been a whole lot of opportunity.

Ahhhhhh……David Nied…..what might have been.

niremetal

July 24th, 2009
4:15 pm

Give it till September….